Most of us know the Danish capital as the place to go for open-faced sandwiches, herring, and molecular gastronomy. But, steeped in history, and bursting with creativity and entrepreneurial spirit, Copenhagen is a fertile playground for culinary creatives, curious cooks, and the just plain hungry. But for those of us with limited time and money, and a burning curiosity, the question is how do we ferret out the authentic, and the not – cataclysmically-expensive amidst so much culinary creativity? Well, fear not, for the “West End Gourmet Tour” offered by FoodTours.eu delivers a well-balanced introduction to Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District, one of the Danish capital’s liveliest warrens of culinary excellence.
Our modest tour group came together in Vesterbros Torv, a centrally located (and easy to access) public square just a short walk from the focal point of our tour. The walk gave Maria, our guide, time for a brief introduction to herself (she’s a “local” with a long history in and around Copenhagen’s food scene), and to the day’s events. Ahead of us lay a casual tasting stroll through the Meatpacking District, at that time (October, 2016) one of CPH’s (Copenhagen’s) up and coming (trendiest) food enclaves.
On the edge of the “Brown Meatpacking District” (where we would not be spending our time), Maria gave us a bit of history about just how the slaughterhouses and meatpacking area evolved on what was then the fringes of Copenhagen – to keep the sights, smells, and sounds far from polite society. Assuring us that the sights, sounds, and smells of today’s Meatpacking District were far from those of days gone by, Maria then led us a few yards away to the “White Meatpacking District” (the color distinctions are down to the color of the buildings), where the tour began in earnest.
Overall, the White Meatpacking District first strikes you as, well, very white. It’s buildings are clean, neat, and, while the flat white tiling and glass industrial ambiance is a bit sterile and not at all gentrified, it lends the area the look of a working industrial area (which it kind of still is). Quite a few commercial food supply operations still operate here, so the area is abuzz with activity. And the glitz-free building exteriors emphasize the fact that what counts is on the inside.
Mercifully, as an early chill was in the air, our first stop was Prolog Coffee Bar, a small coffee shop-cum-foodie emporium, with magazines, books, hot sauce, and other bits and bobs for sale. Here we perched on stools huddled around a small candlelit table and enjoyed our coffee with a mug full of a divine chocolate cake-like concoction with a heavenly artisan marshmallow on top. Coaxed into trying it with a dash of local hot sauce, we were rewarded with a delightful combination of dense, dark chocolate goodness with a “just-enough” jab of heat, all bound together by the marshmallow’s gooey goodness. Coffeed up and warmed through (on many levels) we headed out for our next stop, where we would shrug off (mostly) the trendiness of baristas and foodie coffee bars for a selection of Danish classics.
After a brief stroll through the industrially unpretentious white streets of the Meatpacking District, walking into Fleisch is a bit of an assault on the senses. You’re immediately faced with the kind of full-on butcher’s counter you’d expect in, a restaurant called, well, Fleisch (which doesn’t mean “flesh” in Danish, but does in German).
And then the feeling softens a bit as you cruise past a chill case full of not-so-meaty, and very tempting open-faced sandwiches, and into a bright and open seating area with a kind of industrial chic bar. Yes, Fleisch seems all very well programmed (contrived) for effect, which would normally offend me to no end, but the food saved the day for me.
First, we were treated to a couple of local cocktails (but none of us opted for one of their bacon-flavored house specialties). Then a selection of open-faced treats on classic Danish rye bread was delivered. These include herring and a creamy mustardy chopped slaw. Then, as Maria’s discussion of Danish history (culinary and otherwise) strayed into a comparison of North American Christmas traditions and Scandinavian Yule festivities, the table was festooned with small fry pans containing a pulled pork fritter of sorts with a creamy scallion slaw on the side. Later, the small tasting portions at Fleisch began to make sense as we were told that this was but an appetizer for the rest of the tour. We duly loosened our belts, and salivated, in anticipation.
But on the way out the door our host threw us a curve. In an effort to let the coffee, cake, and sandwiches settle, our next stop was just a few doors down at H. W. Larsen & Sønner, a commercial kitchen supply superstore, where my kitchen gear fantasies were free to run amuck. Later, when my dreams of a lifestyle that includes a 50-liter mixer were sated, we stepped back onto the mean streets of the Meatpacking District. Headed for BOB (Bio-Organic Bistro), we stopped on the way to pay homage outside the famous Warpigs microbrewery.
Nestled in an old spark plug factory, BOB, Denmark’s largest organic restaurant, is delightfully non-industrial. A giant window keeps the room open and airy, allowing diners to feel a part of the bustle and action outside while tucked into their sandwich boards and platters strewn with mixed meats, breads, spreads, and veggies. A half hour or so on, filled with lots of little tastes, our next stop was a bit of a walk away (on the fringes of the Meatpacking District), but well worth it.
Anker Chokolade is a boutique chocolate maker offering a wide variety of tastes and styles, from tiny squares to not-so-tiny cream-filled cones that seem to be something of a “thing” in the world of Danish chocolate. And Anker works it’s magic right there in their tiny basement storefront.
The gear junkie in me loved seeing the stacks of used molds, the racks of settling and cooling chocolate, and then turning around to see the finished and boxed versions all fancied up and ready to sell. As I purchased a few gifts, I mentally raised a glass to the idea that there are people out there who’ve given their lives to improving chocolate. And, moments later, at the tours final stop, I got to raise a glass for real.
Our last stop took us out for a relaxing pint at Fermentoren Beer Bar, a craft brewery/pub back on the edge of the Meatpacking District. Fermentoren’s wide selection of beers includes a number of imported craft beers (including one from Kentucky – near my old Indiana stomping grounds) as well as Fermentoren’s own line of brews. Being from Dublin, I was keen to try the stout, and found it a rival for Dublin’s own.
Our tour was all in English. But, then again, we were all English speakers. Maria is experienced in several languages and leads tours for groups from all around the world, and will make every effort to accommodate groups and individuals.
Overall, Foodtours.eu’s “West End Gourmet Tour” is a well-rounded informative, thoughtfully organized tour with a host who clearly loves local food, has good relationships with local entrepreneurs, and is excited about sharing her city’s gastronomic offerings.
Text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
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